All cooks and food service workers understand the importance of personal hygiene. A daily shower and clean uniform form the first line of defense in the daily battle against food borne illness. It’s an aspect of food safety that most cooks take for granted.
The situation changes when you’re working in a wilderness kitchen. Since the local utility companies don’t supply water or electricity to Deer Crossing Camp, which is located on the wilderness side of Loon Lake in Eldorado National Forest, all water for cooking, cleaning and hygiene must be pumped from the lake and treated.
Fuel becomes a precious commodity when at a camp that generates its own electricity and pumps, filters and chlorinates lake water in a wilderness location. When the supply of propane and gasoline dips below the comfort level, propane tanks and Jerry cans must be hauled down to the boat landing, loaded on the boat and transported across the lake.
One person must then drive to Pollock Pines or Georgetown to re-stock, a four-hour trip (or more) round trip. This process is repeated every two weeks during the summer season. Not only does the supply trip pull a staff member from his duties, each full fuel container must then be carried back up the hill to their respective storage points.
We view each drop of water as a precious resource, one that must be conserved whenever possible. We run the water generator only for short periods to build water pressure, except when washing dishes.
A 10-minute run on the generator will fill the supply tanks. As long as the campers don’t flush too many toilets during food preparation, the cooks will have sufficient water to cook the meal and clean the kitchen. When the water runs out, the I head down to the generator shack and start the water generator.
In addition to his normal duties as the chef-in-charge of the kitchen, I start the water generator each morning. Water pressure is zero most mornings. I often run down to the generator shack before walking into the kitchen at 6 a.m. and run the generator for 10 minutes.
This process is necessary just to wash our hands; fill the wash, rinse and sanitize sinks; and set aside water for cooking (plus coffee!). I also test the water for chlorine level each day.
Vigilance in all aspects of food safety doesn’t change in the wilderness camp. If anything, the primitive setting calls for increased attention to detail. All the cooks must pay close attention to sanitation, especially where water is needed to clean and sanitize.
The chef must find a balance between the need for a clean kitchen and water and fuel conversation. We run the water generator five or six times each day. This supplies sufficient quantities of water into the kitchen for our needs.
Since hot showers use an incredible amount of propane to heat the water heater, most staff and campers take a shower every three to four days. Since the cooks can’t ignore hygiene, I take a sponge bath each morning. This way I help the camp conserve critical fuel supplies while maintaining a high level of hygiene.
If the cook can’t perform basic hygiene tasks, like washing his hands upon entry into the kitchen, then he must find a reliable source of water before food preparation can begin.